Parents Get Testy Over Philadelphia’s New School Report Cards

The Philadelphia Public School District held the first of six planned meetings which sought to canvass parental opinion on new school report cards which are set to replace the School Performance Index adopted three years ago. And the parents delivered. Seventy-five parents showed up for the gathering, hosted at the district headquarters, and their desires could not have been more unambiguous: they were unimpressed!

According to Paul Jablow writing for The Notebook, reactions ranged between mildly negative to testy, as the representative of the Tembo Consulting, the company hired to design the new report cards, attempted to explain them.

A few parents took rather loud exception to resources being dedicated to the new scheme – brought in after SPI was suspended last year due to concerns that it was based on bad data – but when told that The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation was footing the bill, the parents weren't mollified.

"We're using consultants to grade schools instead of spending more time fixing them," said school activist Helen Gym.
Several saw the report card as little more than a thinly veiled effort to use consultants to justify closing more schools or turning them over to charter operators.

"They rely on our schools closing," one man shouted angrily from the back.

Other parents expressed concern about report card data being manipulated for political ends. One noted a recent story about the Indiana education secretary ordering the overhaul of the state's report card to raise the grade of a charter school operated by a major Republican campaign contributor.

The story, recently published by the Associated Press, involved the former Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett who was accused of gaming the school rating system after a charter school operated by an influential donor received a disappointing C using the initial version.

Tembo's founder and CEO David Stewart defended his ground, saying that the new report card will provide objective and well-balanced view of each schools' performance. He noted that the new system wasn't going to attempt to try to boil down all the complex information into one number.

He said that a new report card might, for example, include data on students who leave a charter school in midyear to return to the District. Some public school advocates have said charter schools try to shed students who might score poorly on statewide standardized tests.

Sabrina Yusuf, who is coordinating the report card effort in the District's Office of Strategic Analytics, said, "We want fair, goal-oriented improvement plans, not A-F report cards. … What we're trying to do is fill the gaps in what [data] is available and help you make better choices."

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